Tuesday, September 29, 2015


It’s been 25 years since the movie THE BEAR was released. Hard to believe it’s been that long but it has. When released the movie was a critical favorite but never did huge box office numbers. If it were released today my guess is that would happen as well with the number of television programs dedicated to nature in all of its many forms. When this came out I had no interest. I was part of a generation who grew up being force fed Disney nature films that we saw repeated every year. I loved nature but not so much movies about it. I hope that doesn’t hold true for those who have a chance to see this movie now in blu-ray format from Shout Factory.

Set in 1885 British Columbia, the movie follows two stories that blend together to be one, both involving bears. A small cub plays and watches as his mother forages for honey in a nearby tree. She’s unaware that the tree holds in an outcropping of rock above her and while shaking the tree digging at it she loosens the stones which fall and crush here. The cub is left alone, an orphan in an unforgiving world.

The second story involves a full grown grizzly, a huge animal wandering the countryside. As he makes his way in search of food, finding mushrooms and berries to eat, a pair of hunters begin to track him down. One shoots, wounding the bear. As they rush to where it was shot it’s long gone, or so the older of the pair says. The screams of their horses make them realize how wrong they were and they return to camp to find one partially eaten and another wounded. Swearing revenge the older of the two heads out to get supplies intending on returning once he’s well-armed.

The two stories collide when the cub comes across the older bear. While the full grown bear has no need or interest in the cub, the younger wants companionship and help to survive. At first the grizzly warns off the cub, but when laying down the cub moves up to the grizzly and begins licking his wounds in an attempt to help him. The two become a team and head out into the wilderness.

As they move on the grizzly goes after game that the two share, a learning experience for the cub. As the two bond we get to see something only the world of movies can show us, the dreams of the cub. Using stop motion animation, the cub dreams of the loss of his mother and of the frog he came across when he first set off on his own. These moments provide us with a reason to care about the cub, a way of putting our emotions into the story. We don’t hate the hunters but we find the bear cub adorable.

Trust me when I say the cub is adorable. While small animals are always cute this one takes the cake. When you see him try to imitate the larger bear for instance as the grizzly topples a tree, the cub pushing over a sapling, it makes you smile through the whole thing. It becomes funnier when you find that the display put on by the grizzly was a mating ritual, another act the cub watches unaware of what is going on. What’s amazing to watch is how they animal wranglers on this film were able to get the cub to act the way the director wanted it to. The same holds true of the large grizzly who I think has been used in several movies and TV shows over the year.

Halfway through the movie the hunter returns with a fresh horse and tracking dogs to find the bear. The pair of animals does their best to avoid the hunters, climbing the nearby mountains to get away. Turning the dogs loose and nearing the pair, the bears become separated. Catching the cub they use him as bait, hoping the grizzly will return for him. What happens from there on I’ll leave to those of you willing to watch this movie. I guarantee you that you won’t be disappointed. I won’t say this is family friendly entertainment because of several bloody sequences but with the exception of that and a few what I call Disney moments (like the mother dying at the start) this is something you could watch with your kids if you talked out various moments with them.

Director Jean-Jacques Annaud does an amazing job here of bringing an incredible amount of emotion from how two main actors, and I’m not talking about the hunters. For the most part real bears were used in the production of this movie but during sequences such as the fight scenes animatronic bears were used, created by Jim Henson’s people. The combination is seamless and Annaud mixes them so well as to making it impossible to tell which is which.

The movie also doesn’t just tell us a story about a bear and a hunter, it brings into play so much more. There is a depth of story here that is far and above what we get from tons of regular movies these days. In presenting it as such it touches your heart and works your emotions to a fever pitch. At the same time the entertainment value found is there as well.

The blu-ray edition from Shout lives up to any and all of their previous efforts. The picture quality captures the beauty of the locations used to their full extent. The extras are limited but having watched the movie start to finish I don’t think extras would have benefited this film. It was enough of a pleasure to watch and touches the heart in so many ways I think it would only take away from the film. What greater praise can one give than that?

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Over the years much has been written about Brian Wilson, the driving creative force behind the Beach Boys. In each and every one of those items concerning Wilson the two things most discussed are the abusiveness of his father and the controlling atmosphere created by his psychiatrist Eugene Landy. There is no way to talk about Wilson’s life without discussing those two facets of his life, but there was much more to the man, a creative energy that brought about some of the most astounding music ever heard.

One thing that rarely gets mentioned is the fact that when the Beach Boys were at their peak they were the premiere American band at the time. Looking at the top 100 charts from the early 60s they were dominated by what was called the British Invasion, led by the popularity of the Beatles. While there were a few American bands around at the time, only the Beach Boys would rival them on the charts.

LOVE & MERCY takes a look at the life and times of Brian Wilson in a different way. It does discuss the two topics mentioned, no bio pic could avoid those, but it takes a look at his creative side as well and what brought it about. Rather than follow a linear path beginning at one point and taking it through to the end, the movie jumps back and forth in time. It focuses on what was perhaps the most daunting task Wilson faced in his career and ends with where he is at today.

At the top of the charts, selling out records and concerts alike, Brian (Paul Dano) finds himself needing to take a break from the road. Having recently fired Wilson’s father from his management position (three members of the band were sons of Murry Wilson: Carl, Dennis and Brian), Brian wants to let his creative juices flow. The band agrees to his demand and goes on tour of Tokyo with a replacement.

Left alone, Brian begins working on “Pet Sounds”, an album that didn’t perform as well as the band’s previous efforts but now considered one of the greatest albums of all times and noted by the Beatles as an influence on their “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” LP. Spending most of his time in the studio Brian brings together the top studio musicians of the time, a group given the nickname the Wrecking Crew. Having played on nearly every top album of the time the musicians have a respect for Brian, recognizing his abilities and understanding of music.

Undiagnosed at the time Brian suffered from a mental disorder known as paracusia or auditory hallucinations. The sounds he heard running through his brain were what he tried to bring out in the LP he was working on. Using everything from animal sounds to tympani to strings, Brian Wilson combined these sounds to make a groundbreaking record unlike any heard before and certifying himself in the pantheon of music as a genius. But in doing so it took a toll on his mental health.

The band was unhappy with the results he brought to them. They couldn’t find a hit among the songs he’d recorded. They felt he was just making something for himself and not that they could wrap themselves around or perform. Couple that with the drugs Wilson began taking and the mental issues he had and something was bound to break. Unfortunately it was his mind. The movie allows us to witness the slow disintegration of his mind, using more of an aural display than a visual one to do so. The movie is filled with sound and everything but the dialogue seems to be high in volume, perhaps allowing us to relate to what Wilson was going through, what we are watching.

As I said, the movie jumps back and forth in time, taking us to more recent years after Wilson suffered his nervous breakdown and was put in the care of Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti). Landy was able to bring Wilson out of a 3 year stint where he lived in his bed but at the same time took so much control over his life that Wilson could do nothing without his approval. Wilson (now played by John Cusack) meets a car saleswoman named Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks) and the two fall in love. The only thing standing in their way is Landy who realizes that in allowing Wilson to have someone close to him means losing control, not just of Wilson but of his wealth as well.

The back and forth could be confusing if not for the well crafted script and directing on display here. It’s obvious that director Bill Pohland has a love for the man and his music in the reverence that he treats his subject. The same hold true for both actors portraying Wilson. Dano is amazing to watch not only in the way he looks like Wilson but he’s able to capture his sound while singing as well. The mannerisms that many of us know from various footage of him in the past are captured by Dano as well as he takes on bringing Wilson to life without making him a caricature at the same time. Cusack gives us a different look at the same man, choosing not to take on the look but displaying his acting chops by showing a man tormented yet in need of direction at the same time.

In the end you’ll find yourself with a better understanding of Brian Wilson when the film ends. You’ll also find yourself digging through your music collection in search of those old Beach Boys albums/CDs to listen to once again. The movie does both the band and Brian Wilson well here and is one to enjoy on several levels.

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Movies known as “chick flicks” come in a variety of actual types of movies. There are the comedies that revolve around the trials and tribulations of being a woman (think BRIDESMAIDS), there are the women seeking something more out of their lives type (think THELMA AND LOUISE) and there are what was once just called romantic movies. The thing is that most of these movies aren’t limited in enjoyment by women alone. Guys like some of them as well. I have a feeling that will be the case with THE AGE OF ADALINE, and not just because guys are in love with Blake Lively.

Born in 1908, Adaline Bowman (Lively) lives a normal life. She grows up, she gets married, she has a child and becomes widow. And then one fateful night it snows in California, Adaline crashes off the road ending up freezing underwater and having her car struck by lightning at the same time. The end result is that Adaline suddenly stops aging as we know it. This sets a stream of events moving forward that form the basis of our story.

Years go by. Adaline continues not to age whereas her daughter (Ellen Burstyn) does. They meet often, remain close and as each decade passes Adaline changes her name and identity. She’s currently Jennifer, living in San Francisco and working for a historical society. She lives with no one but her dog and avoids contact with most people having few friends. She spends New Year’s Eve with one of these friends and as she leaves the party a young man jump into the elevator with her. Adaline has caught his eye and he’s determined to get to know her better. Unfortunately she rebuffs his advances knowing full well where this will end.

But the young man isn’t that easily pushed aside. It turns out that he’s a wealthy philanthropist named Ellis (Michiel Huisman) and he’s about to donate some historical books where she works. IF she’ll go out with him. He slowly breaks down her barriers and the two get involved, but in Adaline’s mind for just a short time. She has plans on moving to start a new life, her new identity. Again, things never seem to go as planned.

As the two begin to fall in love, Ellis invites Adaline aka Jennifer, to the home of his parents, William and Kathy (Harrison Ford and Katy Baker). A shock is in store for all as William immediately recognizes Adaline. It turns out that back in the sixties the two of them were involved to the point that he was about to propose to her. Passing herself off as the daughter of Adaline she calms things down. But through William’s eyes the resemblance is uncanny. Can Adaline move past the problems she knows she will face should she get involved with someone? Will William’s thinking he knows who she is complicate matters? And will Ellis be able to convince her to find love, be able to accept her if he learns of her problem?

The movie unfolds at an even pace, never rushing things and allowing the viewer to watch learn more and more about this wonderfully complicated woman who has suffered severe pain and loneliness in a world filled with people. And that’s to the benefit of the story. Various moments in the film move back and forth through time, allowing us to see the things that happened in Adaline’s life that formed her into the woman she is today. While she may look 29 she’s actually 107 in her mind.

Director Lee Toland Krieger does a magnificent job here on several levels. To begin with his method of storytelling is superb, bringing us the bits and pieces we need to know to move the tale forward and allowing us to develop feelings for the characters. At the same time his visual styling here is wonderful to behold almost turning the film into art rather than just a movie in the way it is framed and put together. It’s rare that I find movies to touch me this way and this one does it well. You want to watch not just to get the story but to just watch the images as they appear onscreen.

All of the actors involved here turn in great performances but Lively must be singled out. I’ve seen her in a few things and have never noticed her this controlled and perfect in her performances. She carries herself with an air of elegance in this role as if it were made for her, never hitting a false note from start to finish. While watching I couldn’t help but think of Grace Kelly and the way she acted with that air about her that made you feel she was special.

THE AGE OF ADALINE is a movie that will touch your heart. It will make you either long for a love that was lost or appreciate the one that you have, realizing that each and every moment you spend with someone is special. It’s not a fluff piece of romance but a deeply felt one that will capture you in its story and hold you there until the end. In the end while some will call this a chick flick I think of it more as a movie to be enjoyed more than once.

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